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Father and Son Sentenced For Environmental Crimes

SYRACUSE, NY - Father and son owners of asbestos abatement companies in New York State, have been sentenced to serve the two longest federal jail sentences for environmental crimes in U.S. history.

Before the U.S. District Court in Syracuse, NY, Alexander Salvagno, 38, and Raul Salvagno, 71, owners of AAR Contractors, Inc., were convicted on all 18 counts of which they were charged for conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act; violations of the Clean Air Act’s hazardous air pollutant regulations governing the safe and proper removal of asbestos; and conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). The RICO count involved obstruction of justice, money laundering, mail fraud and bid rigging - all related to their illegal asbestos activities. Alexander Salvagno was convicted on 14 counts, including tax fraud, and Raul Salvagno was convicted on four counts.

“This criminal case, and the lengthy prison sentences imposed, send a clear message: those who knowingly jeopardize public health will be held fully accountable for their crimes,” said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing the laws governing the safe handling and disposal of asbestos and other hazardous substances.” Skinner commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict, noting that the five-month trial was the longest for environmental crimes in U.S. history.

The Salvagnos conducted their illegal asbestos abatement activities over a 10-year period at more than 1,550 facilities throughout New York State - including elementary schools, churches, hospitals, military housing, theaters, cafeterias, the New York State Legislature Office Building, public and commercial buildings of nearly every sort and private residences. The Salvagnos directed the illegal activities of 500 asbestos workers and laboratory officials. The thirteen highest level supervisors pleaded guilty to environmental crimes prior to the Salvagno trial and are currently awaiting sentence.

Judge Howard Munson sentenced Alexander Salvagno to 25 years imprisonment; ordered him to forfeit to the United States of America $2,033,457.70 in assets that were illegal proceeds resulting from their RICO activities, including multiple acts of obstruction of justice, money-laundering, mail fraud, and bid-rigging; and ordered him to pay $23,039,607 in restitution to the victims. His father, Raul Salvagno, was sentenced to 19 years in prison; $1,707,156.40 in forfeiture; and $22,875,575.46 in victim restitution. AAR Contractors, Inc. also forfeited $2,033,457.70 to the U.S. Government and was ordered to pay $22,875,567.46 in restitution.

The convictions are the result of collaborative efforts by federal and state agencies; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the New York State Department of the Inspector General. Assistance was further provided by the New York State Departments of Labor and Health. The prosecution was led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.

Rather than following the legal requirements for the proper removal and disposal of asbestos in order to make sure that this toxic substance was not released into the environment, the Salvagnos used illegal “rip and run” techniques to remove the asbestos, releasing what former AAR workers described at the trial as indoor “snow storms” of asbestos. To conceal his crimes Alexander Salvagnos secretly and illegally co-owned an accredited laboratory, Analytical Laboratories of Albany Inc., which colluded with AR to create up to 75,000 fraudulent laboratory analysis results. Some false sample results were termed “890 samples,” which air monitors created by holding air cassettes out the window as they drove down Interstate 890 in the Albany, NY area. Other results were changed in the laboratory. These false lab results were used to defraud clients into believing that buildings that AAR had “remediated” were free of harmful levels of asbestos.

Residual asbestos contamination was found by federal investigators at numerous locations that the Salvagnos had declared to be safe. Owners of those contaminated buildings were contacted by EPA officials and have had to remove asbestos that had been dispersed throughout portions of their buildings by the AAR crews.

Evidence at trial showed that the Salvagnos knowingly sent workers, many who were in their early twenties, into “hot zones” and encouraged them to work without respirators and other protective equipment. In pronouncing sentence, the district court judge made the specific finding that the Salvagnos’ crimes resulted in a substantial likelihood of death or serious bodily injury to numerous individuals. Proof at a sentencing hearing established that as many as 100 former AAR workers are now substantially likely to develop asbestosis, lung cancers and mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer. Up to 500 AAR workers are at elevated risk. Medical experts who testified for the United States informed the judge that members of the public also were exposed to residual asbestos within specific buildings, and are now at elevated risk of the disease. All known victims have been contacted by the United States in order to ensure that they are able to obtain appropriate medical attention.

EPA has determined there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Improperly removing asbestos and falsely certifying a building to be free of asbestos contamination creates a public health risk.

xposure can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cancer associated with asbestos exposure) and asbestosis.

UM study suggests link in asbestos exposure
Associated Press

MISSOULA - January 31, 2005 - Researchers at the University of Montana believe they have documented a possible link between asbestos exposure and the "red flags" for autoimmune diseases that the human body sends out.

Researchers say that while a lot of additional study is needed, the findings could be the first step in understanding how certain environmental exposure may trigger autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and schleroderma.

The study looked at blood samples from 50 residents of Libby and compared them to samples from a control group, matched by age and sex, of 50 people living in Missoula.

Libby was contaminated with asbestos fibers from a vermiculite mine that was operated by W.R. Grace & Co. from 1963 to 1990. Asbestos contamination has been blamed for some 200 deaths and health problems of hundreds of other area residents.

Jean Pfau, a researcher at UM's Center for Environmental Health Sciences, said the study found that the Libby residents were much more likely to have certain proteins in their blood -- known as antinuclear antibodies, or ANAs -- that the body mistakenly sends out and which attack tissues, organs and cells.

Those antinuclear antibodies occurred 28.6 percent more frequently in the Libby group than in the Missoula group, Pfau said.

The findings are printed in the January 2005 issue of a National Institutes of Health publication, Environmental Health Perspectives.

UM's study is small, but researchers intend to embark on a much larger study to determine whether higher ANA levels translate into actual autoimmune diseases.

UM is applying for grants from the National Institutes of Health to follow up with those residents. Results could take four or five years to publish, Pfau said.

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association called the UM study promising. Heredity aspects of autoimmune diseases are well-known, but environmental triggers are less understood, according to the association.


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